The Chicago Bears are conducting a bit of an experiment with rookie left tackle Braxton Jones. Drafted in the fifth round, Jones would become the second consecutive Bears rookie to open the season as a starter joining last year’s 151st-overall pick, Larry Borom. Borom wound up starting eight games as a rookie.
He had been mired in a battle with veteran newcomer Riley Reiff for first-team reps in camp. Reiff began his Bears tenure playing left tackle, his preferred position. He has been moved to the right side with the continued emergence of Jones.
His coaches have raved about what he has been able to do while protecting the franchise in Justin Fields‘ blindside.
On Tuesday, Reiff spoke with the media and talked about what Jones has done to lock up the job to this point and what his future may hold.
Bears Rookie Gets Strong Vote of Confidence from Vet
Jones’ ascension from rookie minicamp through OTAs is well-documented. Training camp has allowed the rookie to entrench himself even further. That is no small task for any rookie in the face of clear competition let alone one taken in the later rounds of the draft. It’s even rarer that those rookies play left tackle.
Reiff spoke briefly about the Bears’ young tackles including Borom and Teven Jenkins when camp first opened. But, having signed a day before, he could only say they were talented young guys.
The 11-year veteran had more to say after Tuesday’s Family Fun Fest practice at Soldier Field.
“He’s a super-talented individual. He’s experiencing some good edge rushers…As a rookie, it’s hard. But it’s good to take those lumps now. But he’s holding his own.”
That is similar to what head coach Matt Eberflus said of his impressive young bookend earlier in camp.
“He’s just absorbed all of the information and executing,” Eberflus told reporters, “He’s done that. And he’s showing that it’s not too big for him. When you come in as a rookie sometimes the spots are big. And, not to say that he’s been perfect. Because he’s a rookie and he’s had his moments. But he’s doing a good job. We like where he is. We like he’s progressing. He’s got a long way to go. But we like where he’s at.”
Jones was honest about where he thought he was when he met the media as the offense was suffering pre-snap penalties early on in camp.
Those have been cleaned up and Jones has been a part of that. Reiff sees something in him.
“The ceiling is super high with that kid,” continued Reiff, “Long, can move, smart. It’s just seeing some mental things, seeing a lot of reps, seeing what’s coming, and he’ll be all right.”
Joe Haeg is the last player to make double-digit starts as a rookie tackle, per Stathead, notching 14 starts at right tackle for the Indianapolis Colts in 2016.
The last time a rookie made double-digit starts at left tackle?
Interestingly enough, Marshall Newhouse in 2011 for the Green Bay Packers. He started 15 games for a Packers squad that went 15-1with the top-ranked offense in the regular season. They lost to the New York Giants in the Divisional Round, though.
Getting that level of consistency on the left side would be a boon regardless of the cost. Jones’ bargain status makes it look even better if he does indeed pan out. It is very encouraging that he has been able to hold onto his first-team reps this deep into camp. But he has an even bigger challenge ahead of him.
Newhouse only had one more season as a starter for the Packers and two more as a starter for the New York Giants and Oakland Raiders in his 10-year career.
He last played in 2020 appearing in four games for the Tennessee Titans.
Borom is listed as Jones’ primary backup and Jenkins — a 2021 second-round pick of the previous regime — the No. 2 behind Reiff at right tackle on the Bears’ unofficial depth chart.
Speed of the Game
We don’t have to re-visit what happened the last time a Bears rookie thought they were up to speed. So there is no need to rush to anoint Jones as that franchise left tackle this organization hasn’t had since it cut Charles Leno two offseasons ago. Not when his biggest test comes on Saturday when they play their first preseason game.
The tilt against the Kansas City Chiefs has several key storylines worth monitoring before, during, and after the game.
Bears general manager Ryan Poles facing the team he cut his teeth with. Former Bears head coach Matt Nagy’s return to Soldier Field. Bears wideout Byron Pringle is also facing his old team. But he is dealing with an injury that figures to keep him out of this one.
All of those will be interesting.
But how Jones holds up as a starter against an actual pass rush – albeit one that isn’t known for its ferocity – will be one of the most significant storylines that will develop throughout the season.
Embed from Getty Images